“Did you draw those yourself?”

I’ve been looking into some of my limiting beliefs about both my ability to create art and about how we all create art in general. This memory – a mix of good and bad feelings – is prominent enough that I think about it often.

In the 3rd grade I read a book called Dominic, by William Steig. I don’t remember much about it, except that I really, really liked it.  Turns out, it’s a book about a dog who kind of hits the road. That the book resonated so much is interesting in and of itself, considering how my life has taken shape.

We made diorama for the book we were reading.  It was during this process that my dad showed me how I could draw a graph over a drawing and then draw the same graph on another piece of paper and use it to copy the original.  

I drew a bunch of the books’ characters that way and handed in my diorama. I was thrilled that I could replicate the characters in a way that made the diorama look like a pop-up version of the book.

I remember very strongly that the teacher asked, “Did you draw those yourself?”  I remember that she seemed skeptical when I answered yes; like she thought I was lying. I don’t want this to be the story of an evil adult squashing my creativity.  I liked this teacher, and she liked me. Looking back, I assume she was surprised at what I had made because I had probably never made something that looked like that before.  

Why does this memory, of all the moments, stick so strongly in my mind? It’s strong enough that I’ve thought about it many, many times over 35 years. This memory has affected choices I’ve made a beliefs I have about what tools I am “allowed” to use when I create art and how much I can say that a piece of work is mine. That, “Yes, I made this.”

How will this story change now that I’ve brought it out into the light?

Drawing Circles – Counterclockwise/ Clockwise, Eyes Open/Eyes Closed

This is the continuation of some thoughts I’ve been thinking and discussions I’ve been having around the idea of talent.

As a guitar teacher, I spend a great deal of lesson time on the mechanics of playing the guitar.  The sounds that musicians are able to achieve from the guitar are wildly varied, and it can take some work for students to expand their physical habits to allow for those sounds to be achieved.

In my limited time as an art student, there hasn’t been much talk of the physical movements needed to achieve my goals.  It really caught my attention when my art teacher mentioned an exercise a teacher had her perform in art school where they had to draw circles on a piece of news print.  

I took some time this morning to try it out.  I stood arms length  away from the paper and just drew circles. The first one is one that I unconsciously “completed”. I drew to the counterclockwise to make the first half and then started again and completed it at the top.

The rest are made with one continuous movement; standing an arm’s length away from the paper.

Some things I noticed:

  • Starting at the top and drawing counterclockwise, the charcoal slid right along the page. But, when I needed to swing up to complete the circle, my arm had a much more difficult time controlling the line.  Instead of being loose, the line would skip. As my arm tensed to gain control, the line would become too shallow or to wide.
  • I started to close my eyes. This is something that I know from guitar playing.  We, as musicians, can play a lot more accurately than we might think with our eyes closed.  Sometimes, we’re even better with our eyes closed.  
    • I closed my eyes and got a picture of the circle I wanted to draw in my mind, and then I’d draw it.
    • If completing the circle was the goal, I was MUCH more accurate than I thought I would be. 
    • If I drew counterclockwise with my eyes closed, I was able to complete the circle almost every time.
    • If I drew clockwise with my eyes closed, it was much more challenging.  I almost never completed a circle.
  • On drawing clockwise – I thought it was very interesting that I had to be very, very deliberate if I wanted to draw clockwise. Many times I’d think, “OK. I’m going to draw this one clockwise.” But, then I’d put the charcoal down and end up drawing counterclockwise. This happened several times in a row. I realized that I had to be much, much more deliberate if I wanted to draw counterclockwise.  

What do you think? Do people have a talent for drawing circles? How good do you think one could become as a circle drawer?  Do you like them? Are the completed circles the only ones that you like? 

KB’s Theme – song for my art teacher

I take visual art classes with the most amazing person; Kaye Buchman. Her art classes have moved online and it has been a highlight of the week to meet with her and the other students. I’ve been saying that the pandemic has taught me that, “A good teacher in person is going to be a good teacher online,” and Kye certainly proves that to be true.

Kaye and I always talk music almost as much as we do art, so I wanted to write a theme song for her art studio; KB Studio. Building community is the name of the game at Kaye’s studio, so I was thrilled when one of the other students, Mary Ridley, agreed to sing the song I wrote. Enjoy the music and take a look at kbstudio.us if you want to build your visual art practice. She is fantastic.

You can listen to the song right here. And, you can download the notation of the song, here.

The Sticker Method: Creating a Habit of Practice

Available now from Etsy!

This fall I published my latest zine, The Sticker Method: Creating a Habit of Practice. This is a method for taking a lot of the stress that can come with being a learner/do-er out of our lives. I’ve developed the method over my lifetime as both a teacher and a student.

I am a user of The Sticker Method and one of my favorite aspects of it is that the method can be used for anything. If you’ve heard my music, seen my drawings, watched my skateboard videos, or if we’ve talked about developing a habit of going to the gym, then you’ve seen The Sticker Method in action.

What are you going to practice? I’d love to know. Drop me a note at jasonplaystunes@gmail.com.

Why do you play video games? Why do you play music? Why make art?

Imaginary World Podcast is one of my very favorite podcasts.

This week’s episode, Fighting a Virtual Pandemic (embedded at the bottom), is all our actual pandemic as it relates to a video game called World of Warcraft.

I don’t really play video games, but I still find the episodes about video games so interesting.

There is a moment at about 17:80 when the interviewee, Virginia Wilkerson, talks about the different reasons people play video games. She says,

People live life for different reasons and people play video games for many different reasons. I’m sort of like a skill and achievement-based player. I want to be the best in my class that I can be. And then there are people who play purely for social reasons that aren’t interested in going to the high level raids and really maxing out their characters. And then you have a small subset of people who play just for the economics of the auction house in World of Warcraft. And then you have lots of people who play for the roll playing. Like it’s Dungeons and Dragons or something similar to that.

Here description of the 4 reasons people play video games caught my attention.

  1. Skill and Achievement
  2. Social
  3. Money
  4. Role Playing/Character (which I would call emotion)

I see those four facets in my own reasons for playing music. It made me pause and think about how I relate to those aspects of playing.

  • For skill and achievement, I do like to do my best, and be known as someone with a high level of skill. But, I don’t go out of my way to be the best player or something. I play to my abilities and standards, and I don’t worry about music else.
  • I do play music for the social interactions to be sure. I think that is why I excelled within a musical community like the Old Town School of Folk Music, which puts a high value on the social aspect of music.
  • I’ve built a career out of teaching music, so I can’t escape the financial aspect of it. Getting paid to make music allows me to make more music.
  • And, I do think that I have a character when I’m playing. I LOVE to be on stage and I love to put my limited acting range into the music I play. For me, this is where the emotion of my music comes out. I don’t have a character in the way that David Bowie or Bruce Springsteen have, but it’s there. It may be subtle, but know I’m a different person off stage than I am on.

If I had to put a number on these aspects of my interest in music it would be something like 30% skill, 30% social, 15% money, 25% character.

Those numbers are very different than my drawing work. That is more like 50% skill, 25% social, 5% money, 20% emotion.

What about you? Why do you do things like play music or video games? Or dance, draw, play sports, write poetry, ride a skateboard? I would be interested in knowing. I’ll leave the comments open. Thank you for sharing.

Stuff I Keep Track Of – Totals for 2019

I keep track of several things during the year.  Here are the final numbers.  A brief description of what these numbers mean and their relationship to last year follows.

The Chalkboards

I keep track of this stuff on a chalkboard.  In the past, I’ve used a HUGE chalkboard which took up most of one of the walls in my apartment.  Now, I’m couch surfing for the foreseeable future, so I’m using a much, much smaller chalkboard.

About 50% of what is on the board is inspired by Being Boss and they’re Chalk Board Method and podcast.  Check it out.

The Numbers

Drawing Days* = 303 days = 83% of possible days (a 32% increase from last year)

Workouts** = 170 days = 47% of possible days (4% decrease from last year)

Skateboarding Days*** = 56 = 15% of possible days (First year of data collection)

Some Background

Drawing Days – This was a HUGE increase over last year.  The feels great.  In particular, I was pushed forward in the last quarter of the month by a former student who had a concert when he reached 1,000 straight days of practicing his violin.  I’m currently on 74 straight days of drawing.

Workouts – This is the first thing I ever kept track of my workouts since November of 2014.  This year was really tough for two reasons; 1) I quit my job and moved out of state and 2) I broke my elbow in a skateboard accident.

The job quitting and moving things threw me off my gameplan in a major way that I was not expecting.  I just didn’t have the mental energy to get myself to the gym.  There was one month were I didn’t go to the gym almost at all.  But, I needed to find a way to steady my mind.  So, I started counting meditation sessions as “workouts.”  This is not a solution that I want to maintain for the long-term, but in the short term, I’m satisfied with this solution.

Another thing that made the workouts category interesting is that I broke my elbow on July 31.  My workouts, which we already in trouble, took a big hit with that.  I did go to physical therapy three times a week and I had about 12 exercises that I needed to do six times a day, so I did count each physical therapy day as a workout and each day I did my elbow exercises as a workout.  That really saved my totals in the fall.

Skateboarding Days – I was already well behind in my skateboarding goals for the year, but the broken elbow REALLY destroyed my yearly total.  I’m only been back on the board 3 times since it happened.

Now that I’ve moved to a part of the country with so much snow (Marquette, MI) I wonder how I can get those numbers back up.  There is a skate park here, but it’s covered by a 1 1/2 feet of snow at the moment and my understanding is that it will stay that way for the next three to four months.  I had an advantage in Chicago in that, while it may have been cold, in February I could usually find a tennis court or stretch of blacktop in Winnemac Park that didn’t have snow or ice on it.  In that way I could skate most of the winter.

Goals for 2020

Drawing Days – I will be very disappointed if I don’t make it 365 days this year.  I have expanded the range of “drawing” a little bit.  I’ve decided to include painting and what I’m going to call “intentional photography”.  That is photos that I take during an intentional trip to make art.  Not photography that I happen to take while I am doing something else.  Those can be art, too, but I want to make a discussion between the two so I don’t get lazy.

Goal – 365 days

Worksout Days – I’m not sure what to do about this yet.  I no longer belong to a gym, which is disappointing, but I’m still too unsettled by this move.  Hoping to get back to a gym, soon.  I don’t NEED a gym, but I find it very helpful to stay motivated.

Goal – 365 workouts with 100 of them needing me to go to a gym or some similar place

Stakeboarding Days – this is trashed right now.  My board is in storage and there is no indoor skateboard less that an 6-hour drive away.  I’m not sure what to do about that.

Goal – 24 days?  That’s one day a week, every week during the warm months.  I think that’s a good goal.  


* Drawing day = any day that I draw.  It can be for as little as 30 seconds.

** Workout day = any day that I workout.  It can include meditation, physical therapy or yoga.  As little as 30 counts

***Skateboarding = any day that I get on the board.  Time at the gym working specifically on balance, on a balance board or the flat part of a half-Bosu Ball counts as a skateboarding day.  In that way, a workout day and a skateboarding day can be the result of the same activity.